Sunday, December 9, 2007

Okinawa is WAY more than o.k.

Here is my first full day on Okinawa:

Woke at 6 and snuck out of the room so I wouldn't wake my roommates. We're four people sleeping on futons in a tatami room at an eco-hostel on the northern tip of Okinawa. I read for about an hour as I waited my turn for the bath. The bath is hot: about 44 degrees Celcius. It's interesting how the morning baths invigorate and the evening baths relax.

At 8 we had breakfast outdoors: fresh pineapple, eggs w/home-smoked salmon, cucumber, rice, miso soup. Our host, Masa-san, takes great joy in doing everything himself. He built this minshuku (hostel) w/a traditional thatch roof and he and his wife are committed to a local, seasonal slow food menu.

After saying goodbye to some fellow travellers (w/whom we shared much alcohol last night when we arrived), we got in the car and headed south. I'm the designated driver and this is the first time I've ever driven on the left hand side of the road. It's a rite of passage; I didn't think I had many of those left. First stop: the beach. We didn't swim, but spent about an hour poking through shells, watching a man dive for sea urchins, and revelling in the sea air.

Lunch was at a tiny, open-air cafe deep in the rain forest. This is one of those places we would NEVER have found without Cayce's expertise and research. Perched among giant tree ferns we drank lemon verbena tea and I had a pizza made with local anchovies. Do you think that's why the cat befriended us?

Next stop: the Hiro Coffee Farm. The smell of roasting coffee beans confirmed that we'd found the right spot. First we drank tea made from coffee leaves, then several pots of delicious local coffee. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the families who ran the place, their kids, the bright colors, and very warm sunshine.

But we did. Then continued south and west, across the island through pineapple country. When we stopped to take a photo of a field of fruit, the couple harvesting their pineapples looked apprehensive at first, but ended up giving us each a whole fruit to take with us, then sliced several open and fed us on the spot! (Please note her socks; these are to wear w/geta, the wooden sandals.) This woman was very adept with her knife.

We reached the west coast and headed north back toward the minshuku. Gorgeous beaches on the left and a troubling amount of Miscanthus on the right. The vast amounts in the landscape put it on a par with Phragmites in the NE US. We stopped in at local coop stores, buying salt (an Okinawan specialty), fruit, and almari (a distilled rice spirit) for this evening.

Back in time for another bath, a beer, and some down time before dinner. Joe is playing Hendrix on his guitar and Michael, I wish you were here.

I'll back track when I can to catch you up on our time up north in Hijiori Onsen. Suffice it to say that yesterday we went from 2 feet of snow to roadside hibiscus in bloom.


At December 9, 2007 at 2:46 PM , Blogger Leda Meredith said...

The whole trip sounds amazing! And I didn't know you could make a tea from coffee leaves. Ya learn something everyday...

At December 11, 2007 at 11:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, incredible, life altering experience! Do you EVER sleep?

You're so fortunate to experience a part of the world thats so unknown and alien to the rest of us in the US of A.

I hope you'll write more about this trip. And post more pictures too!

At December 12, 2007 at 2:22 PM , Blogger SaraGardens said...

Wow, Ellen - what a fabulous adventure, in so many different (and delicious) ways. Wow (and welcome back)!

At February 4, 2008 at 11:13 AM , Blogger beasie said...

hi Ellen, As I`m on Okinawa in summer I`m very interested in the Minshuku and the interesting places you stayed. Would you like to mail me the names/adresses?
would be great!!!
many greetings, beasie

At February 11, 2008 at 7:40 AM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Hi Beasie,

The name of the hostel is Miyagi Minshuku and their phone number is 0980 41 8383 (from within Japan). If you google "Miyagi Minshuku" you'll find more info, with directions and a few pictures. I hope you get there; please let me know!

At May 24, 2008 at 10:22 AM , Blogger Ex Oki said...

Hi Ellen,

I love your account of your stay on Okinawa! I'll be there for about 3 weeks in July for the first time in over 30 years on a faculty enrichment grant from the school where I work. I lived there as a teenager when my father was stationed there in the 70's and would love to stay for part of my trip at Miyagi Minshuku. I only speak a bit of Japanese and I wonder if I need to have a native speaker with me should I phone for availability or does Masa-san speak English? It sounds like you had a rental car and I'm assuming in the less populated northern part of the island it would be essential. I'm planning to spend the first few nights in the capital, Naha, and then work my way up the island. Thank you for the photos and vivid descriptions of your adventures. I am looking forward to stumbling onto that kind of magic! Thanks so much, Robin

At May 24, 2008 at 2:19 PM , Blogger Ellen Zachos said...

Hi Robin,

I'm sure you'll have a great trip; 3 whole weeks will be so relaxing. Masa-san speaks a little English, but I think it would be an good idea to have a Japanese speaker help with the call, just in case. I always find it more difficult to speak a foreign language on the phone than in person, so why not give yourself every advantage. Trust me when I tell you his minshuku is a once in a lifetime experience.

We rented a car in Naha and we DEFINITELY needed it to get around the north part of the island. There may be decent public transportation on the rest of the island, I can't say. I'd been warned that the American car rental companies were much more expensive than the Japanese companies, but that most Japanese companies might not have staff that spoke English or have an English website. I found ToCoo Car Rental on the internet ( and they were excellent, reasonably priced, and very helpful. And they communicated with me in English!

Have a wonderful time,


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